Opinion | Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson: Living the golden rule

Summer months might be the only time of year that I wake without the need of an alarm clock. For instance, on Tuesday morning I woke at 5:45 a.m. After spending 15 minutes scrolling through my phone, I exercised a modicum of discipline and got out of bed.

I let the dogs out and made myself a cup of coffee with the intention of having an hour for morning prayer before I drove to 8 a.m. Mass at Saint Mary’s. As I usually do, I turned on my television to check the live cam from Friday Harbor, Washington and then a video from Matthew Kelly, founder of Dynamic Catholic, caught my eye.

I listened to the video as I got dressed for Mass. The message was this: If you could remember one lesson from the gospel reading at Mass and put it to work in your life, you’d be a better person.

So I decided to put Matthew Kelly’s idea to the test an hour later at Mass. Here was the gospel reading:

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect’” — Matthew 5:43-48

It’s easy for me to be nice to people who are nice to me. But to love those who get under my skin, whose opinions are not like mine, whose temperament is hot to my cool? Those are the people I would normally not give a lot of time to and here was God saying, “You need to do better, Suzanne.”

It is comforting to think that if we go to church, participate in Bible studies, hang out with only people of our faith, that we are somehow holier than thou. But then Jesus says, “Let’s take a closer look at who you really are.”

During coffee hour after Mass, I was not receptive to someone who simply wanted friendship, which reminded me of all the other times I have been impatient or judgmental. By paying attention to how I interacted with others that morning, I realized how easily I put myself first, using my introversion as an excuse not to listen to the needs of someone else. By the time I got home from Mass, I was discouraged by the realization of how quickly I’d failed the test. Good grief, I thought, I can’t even leave the house without sinning.

One of the lines in the Litany of Patience says that when we ask God to help us to become more patient with others, we must also become more patient with ourselves and not expect all the growth we need to happen overnight. I needed to hear that, too.

For the rest of the week, I paused before answering with a snarky response. To see things from the other’s perspective, and to give grace because I am now more aware of how often grace has been extended to me.

However, the greatest takeaway from my experiment was the realization of my essential need for forgiveness. My inability to go without sin even for an hour, demonstrates why the grace of God’s forgiveness is such a gift and so necessary in our lives. All my hours of daily spiritual practice don’t change my inherent nature.

Yes, I’m a better person than I was before I began following Christ with intention. But even now, I sin. We all do. We’re human. And that’s why we need God in our lives, to point out where we need help and to extend us the grace to do better.

I’d like to encourage you to try this experiment for yourself the next time you go to your place of worship. Listen to your faith leader and pick out one message that resonates with you and consider how you might put it into practice that day. Then pay attention and notice what it reveals to you.

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